Will he or won’t he? That’s all anyone wants to know.
Trying to gauge whether Alex Ovechkin will pass Wayne Gretzky for the NHL’s all-time goals record involves pinning down a number of moving targets and providing answers to mostly unanswerable questions. And while the easy answer is simply “It’s too early to tell,” that’s also not any fun.
Ovechkin entered the season 164 goals behind Gretzky. With the Capitals legend off to a strong start, here’s a closer look at what exactly it would take to threaten Gretzky’s place in history.
All stats updated through Jan. 7.
NHL all-time goals leaders
On March 23, 1994, Gretzky surpassed Gordie Howe for the goals record with No. 802. In the second period at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Gretzky put the puck past Canucks netminder Kirk McLean to break Howe’s almost 14-year-old record.
Nearly 28 years later, Gretzky is still holding firm as nobody else has pulled to even 100 goals of his record. Gretzky scored his last goal on March 29, 1999.
GRETZKY: Last NHL goal | Last NHL game
Most goals in NHL history
|Wayne Gretzky||EDM, LAK, STL, NYR||894|
|Gordie Howe||DET, HFD||801|
|Jaromir Jagr||PIT, WSH, NYR, PHI, DAL, BOS, NJD, FLA, CGY||766|
|Brett Hull||CGY, STL, DAL, DET, PHX||741|
Most goals in an NHL season
|Wayne Gretzky||Edmonton Oilers||1981-82||92|
|Wayne Gretzky||Edmonton Oilers||1983-84||87|
|Brett Hull||St. Louis Blues||1990-91||86|
|Mario Lemieux||Pittsburgh Penguins||1988-89||85|
|Phil Esposito||Boston Bruins||1970-71||76|
|Alexander Mogilny||Buffalo Sabres||1992-93||76|
|Teemu Selanne||Winnipeg Jets||1992-93||76|
Will Alex Ovechkin catch Wayne Gretzky?
Sporting News is going on the record to tell you, in the words of the great coach Ted Lasso, “Believe.”
Entering this season, Ovechkin trailed Gretzky by 164 goals. While he’s off to a good start, it’s unlikely that he’ll find the back of the net once per game. A reasonable high end might be 50 goals per season — which he has hit or eclipsed eight times during his career. He has also come close with 46 in 2006-07, 49 in 2017-18 and 48 in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season.
Fifty goals over an 82-game season comes out to a 0.61-goals-per-game pace. If he plays every game moving forward — unlikely, to say the least — he would need 229 games (as of Jan 7) to catch Gretzky. That would be sometime during the 2024-25 season.
Of course, if he continues scoring at a rapid pace, he could get there sooner. Ovechkin’s career high for goals per game is 0.79, which he set way back in 2008-09. In the last five seasons (2016-17 through 2021), he scored 205 goals in 358 games, good for 0.57 goals per game. Not a bad clip despite him being in the latter stages of his career.
Even if the Capitals captain pots 50 a season (including in 2021-22), he won’t hit the mark until 2024-25 at the earliest.
How many goals does Alex Ovechkin have?
Ovechkin is up to 754 career goals after scoring twice in the Capitals’ 3-1 victory over the Red Wings in Detroit on Dec. 31. Both goals came in the third period; a tiebreaking tally at the end of a Washington power play 17:10 into the frame, and then an insurance marker at 19:19.
Alex Ovechkin career stats
Ovechkin’s star power was evident from Day 1. After winning the Calder Trophy his rookie year with 106 points (52 goals, 54 assists) in 81 games, he has gone on to win the Rocket Richard Trophy nine times. The trophy has only been around since the 1998-99 season and is awarded to the NHL’s top goal scorer.
He’s the only player to win it at least three times. Oh, and he nearly won it his rookie year before losing out to the Sharks’ Jonathan Cheechoo by four goals. He was also a goal short in 2009-10.
And a quick reminder: Ovechkin has had to deal not only with the 56-game COVID-shortened 2021 season but also the 48-game lockout-shortened season in 2012-13. Imagine where he would be now if those seasons were full 82-game slates.
OVECHKIN: Top seven career goals
* Won the Rocket Richard Trophy
^ Co-winner with David Pastrnak